After the commercial success of Take Me Home's disco, it made sense to go in a completely different direction. Her local outlaw 1%ers biker club. Well not quite, but joining a rock band called Black Rose was Cher's most stubborn attempt to become a rowdy rock bitch yet, and the results are pretty similar to her two biggest 80s albums that were yet to come at the other end of the decade. If this were any other artist's career path, it would be easy to assume the singer underwent something of an identity crisis in the previous decade (identity crisis? nope, not this plastic surgery addict), but her meaty charisma anchors all her endeavors with a weathered conviction that always means business. However, literally no one was buying it. Cher and her boys hit the road, and the era was a (Bob Mackie designed) dress rehearsal for subsequent material. Cher certainly isn't afraid to enjoy hoots more than hits: the album Black Rose is more corny than thorny, and her ambitious fight for rock stardom let's all her delicious mannerisms off the leash for some of her most unrestrained/strained performances yet.
With its jaunty opening, Never Should've Started isn't as prophetic as you might think. Cher's breathless opening lines are haunting and utterly beguiling (even if it lacks polish), until she swoops in with a deliciously (and let's face it, butch) "hoooooOOOOOH YEAH" which activates the track kicking itself into gear. Gurning and grimacing her way through the chorus, with her band chanting on back-up, it's a pretty melodic outburst. I don't think this has ever featured on any compilation to date, but if I were dividing her decades into separate discs, this would open my 80s volume. The song was lip-synced on live television, which might not have been the best way to prove one's rock star credentials (note: the performance above IS live).
Cher's quaking bellowing on Julie is a full-on, swearing, chugging pub rocker. If anything, I can get a fix out of her frothing at the mouth style vocals, but this is not exactly one to name-check as a career highlight. "You lying bitch" always raises a smile if nothing else.
With her biker mama imagery, it was a concern that Take It From The Boys would turn out to be the singer pulling a train (of thought). Although it's incredibly cheesy, the track is surprisingly energetic and unleashes some incredible phrasing from our old gal. Cher handles it like a pro, "no slack". More rock overstatement, We All Fly Home ("don't feel the danger 'cause it's the only fuckin' stranger") isn't as turbulent as it could have been. I rather enjoy it as a more spastic counterpart to We All Sleep Alone, in the sense that it sounds nothing like it and takes a completely different stance.
Mixing easy rock with being easy, 88 Degrees "signs a deal for a whole lotta do" and "it's so damn hot" thanks for asking. A meddling mid-tempo sag for sure, but she had to catch her breath at some point. Cher's sedulous rock pursuit is easy to mock, but duetting with her band-mate on You Know It is sincere enough, even if the sound is somewhat homogenized. Crow-barring a gentle ballad into the mix, Young & Pretty "gives up that old routine" and frankly both Cher (1987) and Heart of Stone (1989) could have done with a song or two like this as a third quarter album track.
On an album of big and barely controllable and identifiable emotions, it makes sense to blow off yet more 80s power-pop steam on the album's climax. Revving up manufactured Springstein riffs, Fast Company goes down in flames whilst pledging to "drink the fumes". The flair, fuel and economy of the album is at its glossiest here, and unsurprisingly it's one of my highlights. The image of Cher clinging on to her biker lover going 200 mph makes me imagine her wig going flying way up into the sky. Glamour has no speed limit.
Moving on from the kitsch carnage of Prisoner, personally I find Black Rose an easier listen than both Cher and Heart of Stone even if it lacks the gigantic peaks of either album. Whether Cher's behaviour created scandal is before my time, but lyrically this more CHER than her 80s/90s Geffen trio. She sounds rather liberated here. The biker babe bruised and used pop axiom sounds instinctive enough for the question of Cher's integrity to be nonexistent, and it's also more eccentric than its blockbuster counterparts, which is often the highest Cher value of all - it's a cocktail of aggressive rock (that never quite goes full pelt), but with transfixing camp fascination. I can only imagine this was never truly expected to be a commercial success, which makes the project seem all the more impressive.